Sri Lanka garbage landslide
People walk past damaged houses during a rescue mission after a garbage dump collapsed and buried dozens of houses in Colombo, Sri Lanka REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

A landslide at a garbage dump in Sri Lanka has become a rescue mission as the death toll rose to 29 on 17 April. The accident took place in Kolonnawa on the borders of the capital city of Colombo on 14 April, when heavy rains combined with a fire at the Meethotamulla dump site led to a collapse of the mountain of rubbish.

Close to 150 low income homes in the area were affected by the fall of the 23 million-tonne pile-up. According to authorities, at least 30 people are still reported missing. The Sri Lankan army, which was called on to assist in the operations, said six of the deceased were children.

The damage caused by the landslide has angered residents who were trying to get the government to remove the dump citing health problems due to the rotting garbage. In some cases, politicians attempting to visit the site were blocked from entry. Various groups have issued statements, pointing fingers at the government for its inability to take timely action.

"It's very unfortunate that no one listened to us. Now, after so many deaths, politicians are saying they will stop dumping garbage. These are murders, we will take legal action," lawyer Nuwan Bopage told the BBC. Bopage a resident of area works as the chairperson of The Peoples Movement Against the Kollonnawa Garbage Dump.

"This was a gold mine for the politicians in the past. The Colombo Municipal Council awarded a tender worth Rs. 600m ($3.95m, £3.15m) at Rs. 800m ($5.26m, £4.19m) and made sure the other Rs. 200m when into the pockets of the politicians," he said as reported by News 1st.

"Our children have been buried by this same garbage, over 60 families are under the debris. The politicians who created this mountain of garbage used it for petty political gains."

The Ceylon Teachers Union says the government needed to take direct accountability for the loss of lives of school children and the damage to a school property in the disaster. It mentioned a 2013 dump collapse which damaged the Rahula College and the follow-up demand for the site to be closed.

Meethotamulla garbage landslide
A member of the military inspects a damaged house for victims during a rescue mission after a garbage dump collapsed and buried dozens of houses in Colombo, Sri Lanka REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

"These people did not choose to live next to a dump. But they [the government] brought the garbage in and made this place horrible," rickshaw driver Dilip Mirmal said. While his home was spared, close to 1000 people were displaced by the collapse.

"This is a government-made disaster," Mirmal added. "I have a mix of feelings, of anger, frustration and sorrow. We have been trying to protest and raise these issues, but no one was listening."

Sri Lanka's Marxist party, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) also released a statement blaming the United National Party (UNP) led government. "This is not a natural disaster. It is a disaster an administration without a plan should be responsible for," it said, according to Colombo Page.

"Garbage, made a resource in many other countries using the recycling process, has become a disaster in Sri Lanka. The administrations in our country are so impotent they have not been able to manage garbage either," the party said. The government and the relevant authorities cannot evade responsibility for the tragedy."

President Maithripala Sirisena has called on directed relevant authorities to provide maximum relief without concern for expenses. He also mentioned plans to shut down the dump. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has decided to cut short his trip to Vietnam to address the issue and will return to Colombo on 19 April.